Drug treatment for MS is a multi-billion dollar business. And when you include all autoimmune diseases, it is probably a trillion dollar business. But those days are numbered.
The National MS Society has poured millions into drug research, but not a dollar into dietary research– much to my chagrin (and many others with MS)! The uproar that began when my TEDx talk went viral in 2012 reached a fever pitch in 2014 with the publication of my book, The Wahls Protocol: How I Overcame Progressive Multiple Sclerosis Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine.
Many of my scientific and neurology colleagues told me that I should not publish a book for the public until my studies were finished and had been replicated with randomized controlled trials. I ignored that advice. I did discover that once I had published the book, people were much less interested in being in a trial that included a control group. Who could blame them for wanting to see immediate results rather than risking being in the control group where they would continue to feel exhausted and disabled?
Late in the summer of 2014, I was contacted by the National MS Society and invited to come to their November Wellness Meeting, which was happening during their national meeting. I was surprised by their email, given that I had been banned as a speaker in 2009 because I was spreading “false hope,” so I called to make sure that the Society really knew who they had invited. They did, and I went to the meeting and was quite surprised by it.
It turned out that the society monitors the Twitter and Facebook MS communities. In 2014, there was a dramatic uptick in the commentary on these channels about diet and lifestyle. In fact, diet and lifestyle topics were mentioned 8 times more frequently than all the drug therapies combined! Diet was also mentioned 8 times more frequently than all the other lifestyle topics. Within those discussions, the Wahls/Paleo diet was by far the most discussed. All that social media presence could not be ignored by the Society. They had to come to terms with their constituents’ demands for information and funded research about dietary approaches to reduce MS. At the meeting, 45 scientists and 45 people with MS made recommendations about programming and research priorities.
After the meeting, the National MS Society published a report that recommended neurologists tell their patients about popular diets that are often used by the public to reduce MS symptoms, including the Paleolithic diet, and referenced our research paper! In addition, the Society made dietary approaches to treating MS a research priority. And yes, I did submit a grant to them in August to compare the Wahls Diet (a modified Paleolithic diet) and the Swank Diet (a low-saturated fat diet) and will hear in April if we are funded or not.
The North American Research Committee on Multiple Sclerosis (NARCOM) does a quality of life survey twice a year for people with multiple sclerosis or clinically isolated syndrome. It goes out to 36,000 people twice a year. This year, for the very first time, they are asking people about diet and food choices–what diet(s) they are using now or have used in the past to treat their MS and how well they work or have worked to reduce symptoms. The big news is that the Wahls Diet and the Paleo diet were both on the list along with Swank and several other diets! I filled out the survey. And if you have MS and haven’t filled out the survey yet, please sign up and fill it out! They need to hear from as many people as possible. Use the link here to register and complete the survey.
The National Institutes for Health put out a call through the Patient Centered Outcomes Initiative (PCORI) to ask for multiple sclerosis treatment options that were not drug-based to treat fatigue, mood, and cognition. My team just submitted a $4.2 million letter of intent. I’ll learn next month if I am invited to submit a full grant proposal and would learn in April if we will be funded for that proposal.
I have also just submitted a grant to the VA related to expanding and assessing the functional and integrative medicine services at our Iowa City VA Health Care System.
All of this exciting and groundbreaking work is made possible because you and others are speaking out online about your experiences and priorities. Because of the internet and your participation, more are learning about how to use diet to create more health and vitality in our lives. Thank you for all that you’ve contributed and please keep up the good work. The more that we speak out, the more change we can bring to those who sorely need it.
Dr. Terry Wahls is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa where she teaches internal medicine residents, sees patients in a traumatic brain injury clinic, and conducts clinical trials. She is also a patient with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, which confined her to a tilt-recline wheelchair for four years. Dr. Wahls restored her health using a diet and lifestyle program she designed specifically for her brain and now pedals her bike to work each day. She is the author of The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine and the paperback, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles, and teaches the public and medical community about the healing power of intensive nutrition.